NZ South Island Stray Bus – Part 2 6

Amazing blue lake New Zealand

Sea Lions, Penguins, and Broken Busses o my!

Following up from Part 1 of the South Island tour to give you a little bit of a breather..

The next day we went over to Invercargill which is southern most city in NZ, and one of the southern most cities in the world. The city itself was pretty dull and looked like a small industrial town from the 40’s/50’s. Mick Jagger, on tour with the Stones back in the 60’s called Invercargill the Arsehole of the world. I think that’s a pretty solid description of the city. From here we took a trip over to the Catlins, where we got to see Penguins and Sea Lions up close in their natural environment. It was really cool to see them, but not sure if it was worth the time it took to get there in the grand scheme of things. Without a warning from our tour guide it could’ve been uglier for members of the group, as we were told to keep a 10 meter distance between ourselves and the Sea Lions. The Sea Lions were looking for an altercation, chasing our group up an embankment, and getting pretty aggressive with one another.

It was then back on to Queenstown, where we would spend 3 nights before making our way back north along the east coast. Roughly 30 minutes outside of Queenstown our driver asked if anyone needed to use the bathroom and nobody answered. Roughly 5 minutes later a girl came up asking him to use the bathroom, he begrudgingly obliged and pulled over at the next gas station. Upon setting the bus in park, a huge plume of smoke shot out of the exhaust and Postie couldn’t start the bus without it revving extremely high. The accelerator was stuck, and it wasn’t safe to drive back into town. We loaded up some remaining girls into a trailing bus, and then another 5-10 people hitchhiked there way back into town. I waited it out for the mechanic and he ended up mcguyvering a wire from the accelerator cable so that Postie had to accelerate using his hand instead of his foot, and ultimately shift using the same hand. Navigating straight roads might not be so difficult, but doing this on a large bus around winding hills was quite the feat.

The silver lining to a 2 hour bus breakdown

The silver lining to a 2 hour bus breakdown

Having a few nights in Queenstown was a much welcomed stop from the grind of moving on the bus every day, it also has a pretty solid nightlife, apart from most of NZ. The weather was pretty shitty once again, but we had a solid send off to a large portion of our crew, so I stayed inside and worked off a hangover watching movies in bed while it rained all day. Occasionally you need a day of doing absolutely nothing, and I welcomed that in combination with a hangover.

Speaking of hangovers, one of the interesting things about booze in New Zealand and Australia alike, is that each bottle shows you how many standard drinks are in that bottle. Whether it’s a 750ML bottle of wine (~7-10 drinks), or a 1.5 L bottle of cider (5-8 drinks), or a bottle of beer (1-2 drinks). At least you know what you’re getting yourself into.

The following day provided even worse weather so it was another lazy day, sans hangover, but the weather dropped down to ~40 degrees farenheit, and the mountains surrounding the lake were now snow capped. Unprepared for the elements, I spent another day mostly inside, taking advantage of a solid internet connection.

Stray New Zealand Backpacker Bus

Continuing our shit-weather tour, we made our way to Mt Cook the following day. The weather was decent enough for us to make a photo stop at Lake Pukaki, which was quite beautiful. It’s a glacial water lake surrounded by snow capped mountains, the water is an amazing bright blue that you think you could only find in the Caribbean. Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in NZ, and i was tempted to go on a 3 hour hike in 40 degree overcast weather, however ill equipped for the cold, I smartly passed on the hike, but got a pretty sweet view of the mountain from the hostel.

View of Mt Cook from the hostel

View of Mt Cook from the hostel

Ending the trip for a large portion of our trip, we made our way on to drop off some people in Christchurch. Stray no longer stops here just because the city is still in shambles from the two earthquakes that devastated the city in 2010 and 2011. Those people I know that have been have said it’s really quite sad to see the state of the city, so far after the fact. From here we powered on to Kaikoura, which made it’s name as a whaling village back in the day, and now is a town built solely on whale watching (Sperm and Humpback whales) and dolphin swimming excursions. I passed on both, but the city of Kaikoura was a lovely town, and Postie took us to an amazing lookout.

The final day of the tour brought me back to Wellington, where we caught a Rugby at night game between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Canberra Bumbies. It was fun to catch a game finally, after spending 7 weeks in Oz and NZ, and relatively cheap. The Hurricanes are not very good, and the stadium showed it’s support, as it may have had 5,000 people in a 35,000 capacity stadium.

Westpac Stadium in Wellington

Westpac Stadium in Wellington

I ended up calling it an early night hoping not to recreate the events of my last wellington experience, as I had to wake up at 4 AM to make it to the airport for my 6:30 AM flight to Melbourne. I’ll never make that mistake again by the way.

In closing, the scenery and landscape of the South Island is really quite amazing. It’s tough to capture in a lot of photos, especially with my mediocre point and shoot camera, or my iPhone. The combination of the mountains/forests/coastline/brilliant clear blue glacial waters makes this place a must for any nature enthusiast. If I had done the trip on my own, god knows how many stops I would make to try and capture it in photos. Roughly 2 weeks into my trip my Nikon point and shoot kicked the bucket, so I went for an upgrade on my way out of NZ in Duty Free and purchased a Nikon d3100 in a solid package. So expect some awesome shots to come, too bad it didn’t happen earlier!

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6 thoughts on “NZ South Island Stray Bus – Part 2

  • DS

    I am doing NZ Stray as well in a few months and trying to plan how much I will be spending. What was the price for your Milford Sound cruise?

      • DS

        Whoa! Thanks for replying. I am traveling on the Max and Free Jack pass. The Stray pass was one of the first things I bought when I knew I’d be going to New Zealand, and although I think I’m going to stick with it I’m a little worried paying for the activities I want to do and lodging every night is going to cut a huge hole in my budget. Thank you very much for the info.

        New Zealand was part of your RTW trip, right? Did you end up doing Stray and then leaving the country, or did you stay in New Zealand afterward?

  • jbeinstein

    Yeah of course, happy to help as best as possible!

    I did NZ as part of my RTW trip, I used Stray for the entire trip throughout NZ. It was really the most efficient way for me to see the country without having to do all of the logistical planning.

    Since I was doing that in every other country I visited I welcomed the fact that I could kick my feet back and go with the crowd/flow.

    The activities can get pricey pretty quick. Since you’re seeing all of NZ there will be a ton to do. There may be a couple towns you stop in where you don’t want to do the activity to save on some cash and that’s just fine, there are other people doing the same thing. You’ll meet some people who are on vacation for 2-3 weeks, and then others that are traveling for 6 months. I think you should figure out the must-see/do things on your list and price those out, and then have a slush fund budget for those things you didn’t account for but end up wanting to do.

    I think lodging ended up coming out to ~$20-25 USD a night?

    Food/drink will also get pretty expensive pretty quickly if you end up eating out a bunch, although our driver made an effort to find a grocery store before every night, so if you can show some restraint on eating out/drinking you’ll save some $$.

    I will definitely make my way back to NZ at some point though, it’s a beautiful country w/ amazing people! You’re gonna have a great time I’m sure, and you should feel confident in your choice w/ Stray I think.